The year in African incubators – 2016


Over the course of 2016, we have witnessed a snowball of support for Africa’s tech entrepreneurs. Whether in the form of funding, mentorship, or skills training – there are incubator programmes catering for all entrepreneurial needs. Here, Disrupt Africa looks back at the highlights of the year in African incubators.

The year kicked off with Village Capital taking its hardware accelerator to Ghana, partnering Ghanaian maker organisation Creativity Group. The programme saw two startups awarded US$50,000 each based on Village Capital’s peer-selection model.

Zambia’s BongoHive also launched a three-week bootcamp providing entrepreneurs with the basic skills they need to turn a business idea into a fully-fledged startup; while in Kenya, IT advisory firm Space Kenya Networks launched BitHub, an incubator dedicated to the development of blockchain technology across Africa.

Cape Town-based social impact incubator RLabs opened applications for the 2016 cycle of its Innovation, Incubation and Accelerator (InnovIA) Programme, aimed at turning innovative ideas into scalable social enterprises.

January rounded off with the launch of Merck’s e-health accelerator in Nairobi, Kenya, with startups offered US$15,000 seed funding, with no equity taken in return.

Opportunities abounded in February. Kenya’s Nailab hosted the inaugural edition of its “VC carousel”, where entrepreneurs who have gone through the Nailab incubation programme pitched to early stage and growth investors.

Next, the tables were turned on African venture capitalists (VCs), in the form of the Capria accelerator – which is a dedicated incubator for VCs in emerging markets. Capria selected two African VCs to join the first cohort of its programme.

Global startups competition Seedstars announced a new initiative – the Seedstars Academy – to be hosted in Lagos. The six-month programme promised to turn motivated young people into digital changemakers.

The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) opened applications to Ghanaians, Nigerians and Kenyanslater adding South Africans – for its one-year, fully sponsored training programme in software development and business development; having already trained over 200 and invested US$15 million in supporting software startups.

South Africa’s Awethu also opened applications for its 22-week business incubator programme, offering the top 10 per cent of graduates ZAR250,000 (US$16,000) in seed capital.

Ethiopia’s ecosystem received a boost, with local incubator iceaddis partnering Kenya-based accelerator GrowthAfrica to jointly deliver Ethiopia’s first startup acceleration programme.

Similarly, Somalia’s entrepreneurs also received the news of a new accelerator programme launching, with entrepreneurship organisation Startup Somali inviting applications for its first cohort.

March saw activity boom in Nigeria. Technology investment company Sasware Nigeria announced the launch of a 12 month startup-in-residence incubation programme, targeting fintech entrepreneurs of potential interest to the investment firm; while 10 startups were selected to take part in the three-month Lagos-based Growth Academy accelerator programme, run by the Co-Creation Hub (CcHub) incubator and powered by Intel.

East African impact accelerator GrowthAfrica selected 19 Kenyan and Ugandan startups to form its 9th cohort, with the accelerator expanding to Uganda for the first time; and the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) revealed the names of 1,000 startups forming its second cohort – Nigerians dominating the list.

In April, the first class of startups was selected for the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars, with businesses from nine countries undergoing acceleration in Cape Town; the programme concluding with a Demo Day in June.

She Leads Africa (SLA) announced the launch of a three-month accelerator for women, and opened applications for the first cohort of female entrepreneurs in Nigeria. 10 women were selected to join the programme.

Mauritian incubator The Turbine upped its activity, telling Disrupt Africa its plans to take advantage of governmental focus on the ICT sector and close ties to African and European markets to foster a new era of entrepreneurship on the island.

At the end of the month, we met the 10 startups to form the 2016 cohort of the Unreasonable East Africa accelerator programme, which looks to assist ventures in the region building solutions to social and environmental problems.

In May, Seedstars returned to the headlines with news it was scaling its Academy to Cape Town, following the success of the inaugural Lagos-based academy.

South African incubator WeThinkCode_ selected its inaugural cohort of 120 students to be trained as software engineers, with the organisation also officially opening its Johannesburg-based campus.

June; and in Ghana, the inaugural Innohub Accelerator Programme opened applications, offering startups US$10,000 funding in return for 15 per cent equity.

Somali startup accelerator and fund Innovate Ventures launched its first accelerator programme targeting local startups.  12 startups were selected for the programme, with the top three companies receiving up to US$10,000.

North Africa saw a lot of activity, too. Egyptian startup incubator Innoventures opened applications for the third cycle of its Startup Reactor accelerator programme, with 10 startups to receive seed funding at the end of the five-month programme.

Middle East and North Africa (MENA)-focused accelerator and fund Flat6Labs announced its expansion to Tunisia, in partnership with new startup hub Le15, offering local startups incubation and up to TND600,000 (US$280,000).

Meanwhile in Egypt, Flat6Labs partnered Barclays Bank to launch the 1864 Accelerator for fintech startups, offering startups up to EGP150,000 (US$17,000) in funding as well as 14 weeks of mentorship, coaching and support.

Disrupt Africa was pleased to hear a new incubator was set for launch in Malawi – InCUBE8 conducted extensive trials, with the initiative spearheaded by final year polytechnic students at the University of Malawi.

In South Africa, RLabs continued in leaps and bounds, announcing the roll out of 12 RLabsU campuses across Cape Town, offering free programmes aimed at developing digital entrepreneurs.

We hit the ground running in August, following a sleepy July, with applications opening for the third edition of the Grindstone Accelerator, hosted by South African growth equity fund manager and advisory firm Knife Capital. The programme does not charge a fee or take equity stakes in any participating company, but rather focuses on a long-term upside incentive of investing in participating companies via Knife Capital.

In Cameroon, four startups won places in the “Enabling Bootcamp” accelerator programme run by the ActivSpaces incubator, after impressing at the Pitch Day 237 event.

Village Capital excited again, announcing a partnership with the MasterCard Foundation and the DOEN Foundation to run a three-month programme supporting early-stage entrepreneurs innovating in fintech, with US$100,000 on offer to the top two startups graduating the programme.

GrowthAfrica also surfaced again, opening applications for its tenth accelerator programme in Kenya, looking for startups committed to impacting society positively through their businesses.

In October, Thomson Reuters opened a new innovation lab in Cape Town, aiming to co-create new technologies and business models together with startups, customers, and local universities through the Labs initiative.

The African Women Innovators Network partnered Women in Tech Africa to launch the Business Innovation Lab in Ghana, inviting 30 female innovators to a programme aimed at providing them with the tools and opportunities to work together to develop their startup ideas.

November saw SPRING accelerator return to East Africa, looking for its third cohort, of established businesses across all sectors addressing the needs of adolescent girls.

Excitement erupted at the news the World Bank Group would launch a series of accelerator programmes across Africa, aimed at helping tech startups commercialise and scale innovative digital products. The first programme kicked off in Senegal; with promises of further regional acceleration programmes in eastern and southern Africa; while early next year the World Bank Group will launch the Pan-African Acceleration Programme.

Applications also re-opened for the 2017 edition of the Unreasonable East Africa accelerator, which assists ventures in the East Africa region building solutions to social and environmental problems.

MEST continued its expansion drive, announcing recruitment of entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs) from Ivory Coast, the first French-speaking country in which MEST has a presence.  

Finally, looking towards next year, Barclays, in partnership with Techstars, opened applications for the second edition of the Barclays Accelerator fintech programme.


About Author

Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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